A big flap was created a few days ago when a woman showed up for early voting wearing a T-shirt saying “Vote the Bible.” An election worker assumed that the slogan was an endorsement of Romney and asked her to cover the shirt.
The rules for voting in the area prohibit shirts, caps, signs or buttons supporting or opposing any “candidate, proposition or initiative that appears on the ballot.” So, our question today is, “Was this situation an example of simple election protocal, or was it an infringement of the woman’s first amendment rights?”
The Austin American Statesman article (linked below) quoted an official as saying that another potential voter was asked to leave because he or she was wearing shoes that endorsed Obama. The statement was intended to imply that there was no bias in the T-shirt decision, but this woman’s shirt was not endorsing a candidate or a specific issue on the ballot. So who was right?
If I were an election judge, I would have to rule with the woman on this one. It seems to me she would have a right to state that opinion. I also understand that any references to voting might be drawn into question, so it is probably wise not to come to the polls with anything that might be construed as a political message on one’s T-shirt.
What is interesting to me is the unstated assumption by everyone in the story that the Bible belongs to the Republican Party. I don’t question that there are sincere Christians on the far right, but I do question the assumption that there aren’t just as many Christians on the far left. The right has done a terrific job convincing America that heterosexuality, preventing abortion and capitalism were central issues in the teachings of Jesus. Of course, Jesus never mentioned any of those topics. Some religious people have cut and pasted the Bible to fit the world they want to live in. The actual politics of Jesus focused on the poor, the weak and the sick, but you would never know that in many religious settings. They way many political Christians speak, you would think Jesus spoke primarily against immigration and in favor of a flat tax.
What it means to “Vote the Bible” depends on the biases we bring to the text. If someone reads the Bible self-righteously, they will not hear it calling them to repentence, but will hear it calling them to make others repent. They will reshape the message of love into an attack the same way a vicious prisoner turns soap bars into mock guns.
Even though I am a Christian, I don’t want to live in a biblically-based theocracy. I don’t want my group to be in charge of everyone else. If that’s what it means to “Vote the Bible” I want no part of it. And if “Vote the Bible” means bashing gays and taking away women’s reproductive options, count me out. If “Vote the Bible” means voting for policies that benefit the rich and punish the poor, I have no allegiance to that brand of Christianity. If “Vote the Bible” implies that non-Christians are somehow voting improperly, count me among the heretics.
So, I would side with the woman legally, but I might disagree with her in every other way.
Thanks to Linda Eldredge for the link and the suggested topic.